Charles Tan interviews Ann VanderMeer

Ann VanderMeern is the Shirley Jackson Awards nominated co-editor of The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities.

Hi Ann! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what made you decide to revisit the concept of Thackery T. Lambshead?

The first anthology, The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, was and still is a very popular book. We’ve had so many people ask us when we’d do a sequel. However, the last thing we wanted to do was another anthology of fake diseases. Plus we don’t like to repeat ourselves – we’d prefer to do something new. We liked the idea of stories built around Dr. Lambshead’s “collection”, the secret life of objects, so to speak. And because we love to work on highly visual books, we thought it would be cool to have various artists create pieces of the “collection” and have different writers provide stories about these items. As with most of our books, one idea led to another and the project took on a life of its own. I love that all of these imaginations were brought together in one book. And many of our contributors didn’t know each other before, so it was an opportunity for embracing new collaborations.


How did you decide on the sections of the anthology and where each contributor/contribution will be “categorized”?

We wanted this book to be designed similar to what you might see in an art exhibit catalogue or even an auction house. But beyond that we wanted to have all this great original fiction. In addition to the stories behind the objects themselves, we wanted full on short stories, so we asked for stories about Dr. Lambshead, or the cabinet in general, in addition to the art/fiction collaborations. We approached certain artists, such as Mike Mignola and Greg Broadmore, who provided several pieces and we made those areas separate sections, assigning the writers based on multiple factors. In some cases the artist asked for a particular writer and in others we provided the finished art pieces and asked the writers to select one to write about.

Once we read the fiction that came in, we were able to make definitive categories, although we had them loosely defined ahead of time. It was necessary to see the entire project before we could put it all together. And that also allowed us to approach other people for contributions we thought would make the book even more wonderful. We were lucky to connect with some talented artists and writers that were willing to go along on this crazy adventure with us and understood what we were trying to accomplish. Plus we had John Coulthart creating the section title pages, too, based on our direction and feedback.

And because we were asking for very specific art and fiction, we couldn’t really be an open anthology – it was by our invitation. But because we advocate open reading periods whenever possible, we thought we should do something….so…we came up with the idea of the exhibit pieces at the back of the book. We put out a call for submissions on Jeff’s website, asking people to submit short-short pieces that describe some unique cabinet items. We told everyone we would select 24 for the final book. We had well over 300 submissions and we did end up selecting 36 in the end. That was win-win.


What was the collaboration process like and could you share with us some of the work that went into the editorial process?

This particular project had multiple types of collaborations. Not only were artists and writers collaborating on their contributions with each other, but each individual was collaborating with all the other contributors in various ways. It was pretty striking how many stories came in that referenced other ideas, events, etc in other stories that they could not possibly have know about ahead of time. It was almost like we were all mind-melded together – ha! But the best part of this book was being introduced to so many new (or new to us, at least) voices. Some of our early contributors made suggestions of other people we might want to consider. In addition, many other writers and artists were introduced to each other through this project. I could definitely see everyone being inspired by everything else. It was so much fun!

And our editorial process for this book? Not like any other book we’ve ever done. As I said earlier, we don’t like to repeat ourselves, even though this might mean we’re starting all over again. Jeff and I work so well together. Our strengths and weaknesses complement each other, plus our workloads are different. So when I have more free time I can do more in while Jeff is working on other projects and vice versa. Now, this isn’t to say we never had any arguments, because we did. But we lay out the ground rules ahead of time with each other for each project.

I have to say, Jeff and I were looking over the number of contributors we published in 2011 in our various anthologies and we had well over 600 people represented. That’s a quite a large number of unique talents. We’re truly blessed.

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